Contributing Editor for The Master Skier
Jonathan Wiesel is a XC ski area planner
and author of Cross-Country Ski Vacations.
I donít know any region in North America that has more magnificent or diverse cross-country skiing than North Lake Tahoe.
Sure, there are huge individual areas (like Mont Sainte Anne, the Methow Valley and Sun Valley) and tremendous concentrations of trails in Quebec, Northern Minnesota and Anchorage.
But nowhere will you find more skiing, more beautiful scenery or more reliable snow than on this borderland between California and Nevada.
So I find it strange that the region is hardly known outside of Northern California. Well, thatís kind of misleading because most of us have at least heard of Royal Gorge.
But you probably donít know about Tahoe Donner Cross Country Center, which in any other part of the continent would be considered a giant on its own merits.
There are over 100 kilometers of trails spread over three connected networks, 1,307 feet of vertical drop (thatís more than any downhill resort in the Midwest!), top quality ski equipment, 30 feet of snow in an average year and killer chocolate chip pumpkin muffins.
Tahoe Donner is about 35 miles west of Reno and five miles from the thriving resort town of Truckee (where you can find all kinds of lodging), which is a little north of Lake Tahoe.
The area was founded by former U.S. Biathlon Team member Glenn Jobe, who also began Kirkwood (south of Tahoe) and still lives in the area and helps coach local kids. Itís not a well-known destination Ė youíll find most visitors live within 25 or 30 miles of the area.
That brings up a sore point for lots of Tahoe winter tourists, weekend travel madness!
Whether youíre traveling from Reno or east from the Bay Area through Sacramento, to save sanity, drive on non-holiday weekdays if possible.
Thereís the added benefit that youíll find just as many trails at Tahoe Donner are open, grooming is equally good, there are shockingly fewer people sharing your trails, thereís night skiing on Wednesdays (none on weekends) and the views of the Northern Sierra (the day lodge is at 6,600 feet) are just as good as any Saturday or Sunday.
One of the things I like most about Tahoe Donner is the atmosphere. Whether youíre talking with manager JoJo Toeppner and her affable American/Australian staff or with other guests, conversation is going to be friendly and relaxed.
I skied there a couple of times last February and enjoyed everything from chance conversations while putting on my boots to encountering those muffins mentioned earlier, along with fresh soups and humungous sandwiches.
The West Coat has the highest percent of skaters of any region in the country, and Tahoe Donner is no exception ó something one third of visitors are skaters, though I saw a few people playing with both skate and classic gear.
All but two trails are groomed with double tracks and skate lane, which is pretty much the norm in this part of the world. A lot of them can be skied both ways, and thereís enough vertical change that each direction gives you a different skiing and visual experience.
Sixteen trails are greens, concentrated in the Home Range and more heavily wooded lower Euer Valley networks.
Twenty-one trails are rated intermediate, with a half-dozen advanced/expert runs, mostly part of the higher Sunrise Bowl network.
There are a half dozen advanced to expert choices.
'Iím OK Euer O.K.' has a double black diamond rating, with over 1,200 feet of drop. Itís steep, twisty, photogenic, and my advice is to ski the whole 5.8 kilometers (one of the longest trails at the area) downhill. Whoooeeee!
I get a kick out of the trail names. Some follow a western theme ('Pony Express,' 'Rough Rider,' etc.), some are self-explanatory ('White Lightning' skis like it sounds).
Tahoe Donner sees a lot of good skiers (they hosted the NCAA championships a few years ago) as well as beginners and families (you can rent pulks). If you want to experiment with equipment, they have a lot of rental gear and a wide brand selection in demo skis.
Youíll find five warming buildings along the trails, including the Euer Valley Cookhouse. This is one place itís worth visiting on weekends and holidays, since it carries all kinds of goodies.
Contact Tahoe Donner, 530-587-9484, xcski@tahoedonnercom, www.tahoedonner.com.
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